“Principal Burberry,” I state with surprise as he steps out of the trees.
He looks around to check out our surroundings. Seeing that we’re alone, he steps down towards me.
“Emery,” he greets. “Fancy seeing you here.”
I glance around, too. We’re really alone. I don’t like that. I take a step back.
“Yes, I’m just hunting with Salvador.”
The principal looks around again. “I don’t see him.”
“He went after a hare,” I lie, feeling progressively uneasy. “He’ll be back in a minute.”
The principal doesn’t sound convinced. That makes both of us. Principal Burberry takes another step towards me.
I take another step back and subtly reach behind to my back pocket for my phone.
“Emery!” We both turn at the sound of Sal’s voice.
Sal appears in the trees a couple metres away from both of us. His head whips back and forth as he looks at the two of us. The panicked expression on his face makes me even more nervous than I was before.
“Emery! Get away from him!” Sal shouts and lunges towards me.
I turn to look at the principal. A scream escapes my lips as I spot the Lamia blade he is holding in his hand. He raises his hand above his head and my arms instinctively come up to form a cross as protection.
The principal brings the blade down. It swooshes as it easily cuts through the air. I brace myself for the pain, but it doesn’t come. Sal throws his body in front of me, and we fall back onto the ground together.
The ground winds me, as does the weight of Sal’s body on my legs. Fear pierces through me and panic makes my throat close. It’s like my attack all over again. Sal groans and rolls off my legs. I look up and stare wide-eyed at the principal.
There is uncontrollable fury in his eyes as he stalks towards me. I start scrabbling backwards, my hands scraping over rocks and dirt.
He is cut off as someone grabs him from behind. Relief at seeing Lucio and Mal floods through me. Oro and Esteban are close behind. Endorphins are released, taking my fear with them.
I’m safe, my mates are here.
The Four take control of the principal, pinning him to the ground. I watch him warily in case he tries to hurt one of my mates. He glares at them with so much hatred, it’s unnerving.
I turn back to my friend and find him on his side. I roll him over, onto his back. His eyes are squeezed shut in pain; his lips pressed into a grim line. The blade sticking out of his chest makes my heart stop.
“No, no! Sal,” I mumble as I reach for the handle of the blade but stop myself.
It is lodged deep into his heart. Removing it will only kill him faster. My eyes start to burn, and tears follow, leaking from my eyes and pouring down my face.
“No, this can’t be happening,” I whisper.
I reach for his hands and grip them tightly. They’re starting to go cold, and his face is turning pale as it drains of blood. The dark red liquid is pooling on his chest, soaking his white t-shirt and dripping onto the dirt below us. Sal opens his eyes and gives me a weak smile.
“Don’t leave me,” I cry as the tears flow endlessly down my face. “Why did you do that? Why did you sacrifice yourself?”
He looks up at the sky and his eyes glaze over as the life leaves him.
“Sal!” I scream his name, my voice hoarse with emotion.
He died saving me.
I throw my head back and cry out. Sobs wrack through my body, shaking it violently. My mates appear by my side. They drop to the ground with me, and multiple sets of arms wrap around my body. I fall into them, knowing they will hold me.
I feel as though I can’t breathe. My heart is pounding, and the tears won’t stop coming. I’ve lost my best friend. He died for me. And why? I’m not worthy of his sacrifice.
How am I supposed to go on without him? How am I supposed to carry the guilt of knowing that I am the reason he died?
In the haze of my self-loathing, I can hear someone calling my name. I blink up at Lucio, who is in my face and trying to get my attention.
“Emery, listen to me,” he says firmly. “Emery? Can you hear me?”
I nod stiffly but I can’t talk.
“It’s going to be okay, Em. Give me your hand.”
I don’t see how it is going to be okay.
Lucio takes my hand and moves to sit next to me. Oro takes my other hand in his. Mal and Esteban join hands, too. We form a circle around Sal’s body. I realise that one of them has removed the blade from his chest.
“Emery, listen to me,” Lucio orders calmly. “Close your eyes and concentrate on Sal.”
I look at him confusedly. “What?”
“Close your eyes. Do it, now.” Panicked, I do as he asks. “Think of Sal.”
I focus on my friend, dead and in front of me. I see his face behind my closed eyelids. My hands start to warm until they’re almost burning. I let go of Oro’s and Lucio's hands when it burns too much, it feels like my skin might drop off.
A gasp reaches my ears. A gasp I recognise immediately. My eyes fly open, and my own gasp escapes my lips. Sal is sitting up, his eyes wide with shock, his mouth slack and open. There is colour in his cheeks, life in his eyes.
“Sal?” I whisper his name.
He takes a couple of deep breaths, and his hand goes to his chest. I look down at the wound, which has now closed. The bloodstain remains on his shirt, evidence that my friend really was just dead before me.
“What in the?” I mumble under my breath.
Lucio lets out a shaky exhale and sits back. “I’ve heard about it before, but never of it happening in our lifetime.”
“I’ve only ever read about it,” Oro says incredulously. “Sometimes, if the bond is strong enough between poly-mates, they can do incredible things, like heal or bring back the newly deceased.”
“It takes an immense amount of power,” Lucio confirms.
“It’s rare,” Mal adds and smiles wryly. “About as rare as having four mates.”
I throw my arms around Sal, hugging him tightly to me. Tears are now streaming down my face for an entirely different reason. He hugs me back, rubbing my back soothingly.
“I’m okay, Emmie,” he reassures me.
“I thought I’d lost you. Don’t do that to me again,” I wail, sniffling unattractively. “You saved me.”
I pull back and look over at principal Burberry, who is lying motionless on the ground.
“He’s only unconscious,” Esteban says. “We snapped his neck. He’ll come round in an hour or two.”
We help Sal get to his feet. He rolls his shoulders and takes a few steps, testing his strength. Despite the bloodstain, he looks like his old self, he doesn’t look like he’s just been brought back from the dead.
“I feel fine,” he assures us.
“We need to alert the authorities,” Lucio says sternly. “Principal Burberry tried to kill our mate. I want to know why.”
Whilst The Four stay with the unconscious principal, Sal and I return to the register building. The authorities are contacted and, half an hour later, it all kicks off.
The principal is arrested and taken away in cuffs. He became conscious whilst being handcuffed and started yelling profanities at me. It made tears spring in my eyes again. He was so nice when I first arrived. I would never have guessed the ill-feelings he was harbouring towards me.
The authorities take witness statements from all of us, including the register staff member and students in the forest who saw us entering, the shouts and screams.
An hour later, we are allowed to return to our dorms. Sal remains behind with the authorities whilst my mates and I return to our dorms.
Oro makes everyone a mixture of blood and hot chocolate. We sit in silence on the sofas, nursing our warm mugs, waiting for Sal.
Almost an hour later, he comes in, looking shattered. Oro immediately jumps up and pours him a mug. He accepts it gratefully and takes a seat.
Once he’s settled, the questions start.
“Sal,” I address him. “Please, explain to me what the hell happened in that forest. I’m so confused.”
He gives me a sympathetic smile and leans forwards, resting his elbows on his knees.
“Where do I begin?” He says rhetorically to himself and runs a hand through his hairs. “Let’s start with my prophecy, which I received last year.”
We all listen intently. It’s so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.